When the word, “cult,” gets bandied about, including by increasing numbers nowadays who recognize that the pro-Trump current in the GOP is now effectively one, there remains a great lack of information and appreciation for what “cults” actually are, and why putting that label on the Trump movement is apropos.
The core question concerns how cults function to induce mind control among their true believers.
The rise of cults in the U.S. came after the Korean War, arising from the effectiveness of mind control techniques, a.k.a. “brainwashing,” by the Communist Chinese and their Soviet KGB counterparts, as revealed by U.S. prisoners of that war who were their victims.
All covert superpower intelligence agencies were keenly interested in the phenomenon, and “The Manchurian Candidate,” the 1959 novel by Richard Condon that was turned into the 1962 film classic (starring Angela Lansbury and Frank Sinatra) was a cautionary tale at the time with a solid grounding in facts and methods on the subject. Condon was not the expert, but he certainly had them advising him on this work.
Considerable attention is paid in the first chapters of the book to the scientific and experimental bases of “conditioning,” a euphemism that today is better known as brainwashing.
In the modern era, its roots are traced to the Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936), famous for his work on conditioning the reflexes of dogs. A Pavlovian disciple, Andrew Salter (1914-1996) was subsequently known as the founder of “conditioned reflex therapy.” His theories and experiments involving hypnotherapy and self-hypnosis, including the efficacy of post-hypnotic suggestion, were published in his 1949 book.
“The Manchurian Candidate,” Condon’s book and the subsequent movie, functions like a primer on the subject, referencing the work of Pavlov, Salter, Krasnogorski, Meigant, Petrova, Bechtervov, Forlov and Rowland. “Conditioning, called brainwashing by the news agencies, is the production of reactions in the human organism through the use of associative reflexes,” a Condon character said. The purpose was “to construct behavior which would at all times strive to put the operator’s exact intentions into execution.” It works on the unconscious mind.
More recent books on the subject include the 1991 “The Search for the Manchurian Candidate” by John Marks, the 1957 “Battle for the Mind, Physiology of Conversion and Brainwashing: How Evangelists, Psychologists, Politicians and Medicine Men Can Change Your Beliefs and Behavior” by William Sargant. and the works of contemporary cult expert Steven Hassan. Marks’ error is that he blames the U.S. CIA for the cultivation of the phenomenon. But the root of the problem in U.S. society are the nation’s deadliest, most fiercely anti-democratic rivals. A Soviet character in Condon’s book is described as seeing in the brainwashing methods “possibilities that would hasten revolutionary causes by 50 years.” Nonetheless, some in the U.S. covert intelligence have coddled it for its power to manipulate domestic fringe group adversaries of the U.S. mainstream.
Trump is likely “conditioned,” himself with perhaps some post-hypnotic suggestive triggers that Putin executes once in a while. “Paranoiacs have always provided us with the great leaders of the world and always will,” Condon’s Communist Chinese character says in his novel. “Paranoiacs display an innate ability to falsify hampering conditions of the past to prevent unwanted distortion of the future, with that relentless, protective cunning that places the whole world into a position as their enemies.” Sounds like Trump.
The feeling state most susceptible for brainwashing is “total resentment.” Unlike hatred that “presupposes a duel between the hater and the hated, the reaction of the resenter is directed against destiny…involving thoughts permeated with an indefinable bitterness…inhabiting a human with the capacity for affection so poorly developed that his understanding for the motives of others very nearly does not exist.” Sounds like Trump and his ardent followers.
Cults were born of this. It was recognized that there needed to be a strong environment of reinforcement for brainwashed individuals to ensure the reliability of their altered states. Cults, offering the desired context for “belonging,” guarding against the influence of outsiders and direction under the watchful eye of an authoritarian leader, were caused to mushroom.
(To be continued).
Nicholas Benton may be emailed at [email protected]